Minimum global corporation tax rate would help save high street retailers – Andrew Morrison
Critics said placing such a floor for corporation tax in the developed world would open the door for other countries to undercut the UK, costing potentially thousands of jobs.
Those looking forward to the constitutional changes brought about by Brexit also questioned why, having just secured freedom from the European Union would we then tie ourselves into something so inflexible and limiting?
But there’s no doubt in my mind that, for small businesses right across the country, this is a hugely encouraging development and one which will help them out when they’ve never needed it more.
At last, the independent coffee shop will be given a helping hand in competing with the global brands they sometimes share a street with. Small book shops will be able to bite back at the colossal impact online retailers such as Amazon have had on their profitability.
Competition is healthy, everyone recognises that, but minimum standards must be set.
It’s grossly unfair that multi-nationals who trade in various jurisdictions can configure their tax affairs in such a way that they pay considerably less taxation than smaller firms with whom they share a marketplace.
It would be impossible for a single town-centre trader to argue they do business somewhere else; they are completely tied to the corporation tax rates set in this country, and almost all adhere to this with goodwill and honesty.
They also can’t depend on economies of scale which enable the big corporations to sell goods more cheaply.
There is an argument to be had about consumers benefiting from cheaper books and coffee – that’s free trade after all.
But how would those customers feel when all small businesses in their area are driven to the wall and, suddenly facing no competition whatsoever, the big names hike their prices indiscriminately?
The same consumers also benefit from the minimum standards such a corporation tax agreement can usher in. That includes better consumer protection rights, fire safety standards and product design standards.
The establishment of these minimum levels is vitally important, and explains why they were discussed at such length during the Brexit negotiations, not least in the now infamous case of chlorinated chicken.
By setting these benchmarks, consumers at home and abroad know that – when they purchase a product made in the UK – it will be reliable, durable and good value for money. Even in the gig economy age, that still counts for something.
It’s worth remembering that setting corporation tax at a minimum level of 15 per cent (some argue very compellingly that it should be higher) doesn’t stop a government being flexible elsewhere in the tax system.
Considerable breaks can be afforded to all sorts of industries and on any number of matters of economic importance.
Research and development tax breaks – for those who have invested in creating something unique – deliver significant rebates not just to scientists with test tubes and white coats, but to any businesses which can show an element of trial and error in their new development.
Tax credits in film and production and “super deductions” for those investing in plant and machinery are also good examples of a tax system designed to make things happen.
Of course, the immediate financial impact of this on big firms operating in the UK and who pay their taxes here in a fair and proportional manner will be negligible.
Corporation tax is currently 19 per cent, so any worldwide baseline still has a bit to go before hitting coffers here.
But if all other countries were brought up to this level, perhaps more of the big names would properly locate themselves here in the UK and pay their dues accordingly.
And let’s not forget the well-being of our city, town and village centres.
The much-loved businesses which occupy the high streets will not be able to survive further surges in online commerce.
These shops and cafes have suffered more than most through the pandemic, even those which have managed to diversify or take their first, cautious steps into online retail.
Politicians from all sides are agreed that it’s very much the job of government, local and national, to implement policies which preserve and improve high streets.
Ensuring these hardworking people play on the same taxation field as their Goliath rivals would be a good place to start.
Over the last 16 months, governments across the world have spent record amounts in supporting traders and workers economically through the pandemic.
Different countries have adopted different systems but, by-and-large, there has been agreement that the state has to dig deep to protect those whose livelihoods have been put on pause.
That sets the scene perfectly for further collaboration as the world’s economy heals, and will assist in tackling abuse of tax systems, avoidance and evasion.
By clamping down on those issues, while making it tougher for tax havens to operate, the global marketplace will become easier to enter for small-to-medium enterprises.
This is why the setting of a worldwide minimum corporation tax isn’t just productive from an economic point of view, it’s the ethically correct decision.
Following the unprecedented investment in job retention schemes, not to mention the costs to healthcare systems brought by the treating of, testing for and vaccination against coronavirus, there will be some hefty bills to pay back.
It’s patently wrong that the world’s richest companies, owned and directed by the very wealthiest individuals, can partake in a tax system which means they don’t pay anything like their fair share.
As someone who works in finance, it perhaps goes against my instincts to call for tax hikes. But as someone who represents small businesses, I also know what a boost such a move would deliver on the ground.
Andrew Morrison is director of MCC Accountants
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